There is no magic bullet

A new academic year is upon us, and I can’t wait to teach again! It remains to be seen if or when we will return to physical classrooms, but I feel cautiously optimistic about 2021. It can’t get any worse than the previous year, right? The unexpected switch to remote teaching inevitably caused huge issues in the ELT industry. A lot of students decided not to join online courses for various perfectly understandable reasons, which inevitably led to economic problems and job losses in many institutions.

Private language academies now have to convince potential students that paying for English classes is a good idea. Colombian economy has been hit hard by the pandemic and many people need to think twice before spending their money. Businesses are looking for ways to dig themselves out of a hole, and those involved in education are no exception. Some may consider copying their competitors’ practices or even trying something completely new. When it comes to ELT, I have encountered a few ideas that definitely wouldn’t represent a step in the right direction, and I’d like to write a few words about them.

There is no magic bullet

Hiring unqualified teachers
Giving a teaching job to someone whose only qualification is being (or looking like) a native English speaker is usually a recipe for disaster. If you want to avoid the risk of poorly delivered classes full of incoherent rambling, you should hire someone with relevant teaching qualifications. I mean, this is just common sense.

There are plenty of experienced teachers in Colombia looking for work right now. They are ready to hit the ground running, and they deserve to be given a chance to do so. Local teachers are the backbone of any ELT community, and that’s why supporting them should be their employers’ priority. In fact, I believe that providing existing teachers with incentives to get their CELTA, Delta, Master’s degree or other qualifications would be a better long-term strategy than looking for quick fixes from abroad.

Relying on a magic method
I can’t imagine myself teaching from a script. Schools that claim their unique method is the best way to teach aren’t my cup of tea. It’s certainly useful to be familiar with different teaching methods and techniques, but having to use only one of them seems like a missed opportunity to me. Why would you restrict yourself to repeating the same thing again and again? It must get boring pretty fast.

I really don’t think there is just one way to teach. It is imperative to take your teaching context and students’ needs into account instead of applying global solutions. Building rapport and personalising your lessons is much more useful than following some random ‘method’ imposed from the outside.

Peddling debunked myths
I spent most of my life believing the theory that says the left side of the brain controls logic and the right side is responsible for creativity. I heard about it at school and accepted it as something that is true. When I started teaching, I noticed the theory again in some coursebooks, so I decided to read about it a little more. It turns out that the whole thing isn’t true and there is hard data to prove that.

While the left/right brain myth is relatively harmless, some theories are actually applied in teaching practice, and that’s where problems arise. The theory of multiple intelligences is quite attractive, but even its Wikipedia page says that it isn’t supported by evidence. According to the article Each to their own, which was published in The Guardian in 2005, Howard Gardner himself made some damning remarks about using his theory in teaching.

The Harvard professor never intended his book on multiple intelligences (MI) to be a blueprint for learning, but he was aware that many educationalists were adapting his ideas. The shock came on a visit to Australia.

“I learned that an entire state had adapted an education programme based in part on MI theory,” he says. “The more I learned about this programme, the less comfortable I was. Much of it was a mishmash of practices – left brain and right brain contrasts, sensory learning styles, neurolinguistic programming and multiple intelligences approaches, all mixed with dazzling promiscuity.”

One idea that always seems to pop up is called learning styles. Again, I understand the theory’s appeal, but the problem is that it has been debunked many times. Asking your students to fill in a learning styles questionnaire and then building your classes around the results could actually have detrimental consequences. I recommend that you read The ‘Learning Styles’ Myth: Don’t Spread Fake News by James Egerton. It’s time we stopped wasting our time with this.

It would be unfair to blame the people who came up with these ideas. They thought that they were onto something good, but their theories turned out to be incorrect. That’s quite common, so we should simply move on and focus on something more useful.

Adopting fads and hoping they work
There are some ideas that need to be researched more in order to determine how effective they are. Take growth mindset, for example. I can’t deny that its premise sounds good because self-improvement is undoubtedly a good thing. The issue is that it still isn’t completely clear how growth mindset can be used in the classroom. It all seems to be based on wishful thinking. You should read Philip Kerr’s post A measured approach to mindset interventions for more details. I am not in favour of utilising new ideas in our teaching practice just because they are popular at the moment. Shouldn’t we be primarily concerned with finding out if our students will actually benefit from them?

I understand that it’s tempting to look for simple solutions, but that can lead to losing track of what is truly important. If you want to provide high-quality classes, you have to support your teachers. They need to have access to books and academic papers and be encouraged to read them. They need to get relevant training, be observed, and receive individual feedback on their performance in the classroom. Professional development is a long-term commitment, and I don’t think that taking shortcuts is likely to produce positive results.

Tips for getting a CELTA Pass A

As I mentioned in the post about teaching qualifications, doing a CELTA is a great choice for new teachers because the 4-week course will prepare you for your first job. The CELTA is also taken by experienced teachers who wish to improve their teaching skills. This standardised course is offered in numerous locations around the world, including Bogotá and Medellín. It can now be done 100% online because of the pandemic, but I will focus only on the in-class option in this text.

I had never taught English to anyone before taking my CELTA at CELT Athens, so I didn’t know what to expect. In the end, it turned out to be an unforgettable experience that completely changed my professional life. Getting an A grade was a nice bonus, and it made me feel good about my decision to become an English teacher. I can’t provide you with a step-by-step guide to achieve the top grade because there are too many variables, so I will try to share some general advice instead.

Tips for getting a CELTA Pass A

At first, we need to look at relevant statistics. In 2018, the overwhelming majority of trainees (95.4%) successfully passed the course. The CELTA is really demanding, but there is no need to feel anxious about it. Course providers screen candidates by asking them to take a test and undergo an interview in order to select only those who have a real chance of passing the course. If you search for CELTA-related information online, you will probably encounter some terrifying stories of people being on the verge of a nervous breakdown during the course, but I wouldn’t recommend paying too much attention to that. Again, the numbers are clear: if you are accepted on the course, you will most likely pass it.

So who exactly doesn’t pass the CELTA? According to the 2018 statistics, 4% of the candidates withdrew from the course. It’s necessary to emphasise that the full-time CELTA is very time-consuming because you have to spend 8 hours at the centre every day and then do your lesson planning, background reading and assignments in your free time. That’s why taking the course in your hometown may not be the best option because you need to avoid distractions. You should also stay in a place close to the training centre so that you don’t waste a lot of time commuting.

I couldn’t really afford to fail the course because I had quit my job and bought a ticket to Colombia. No pressure then! My solution was simple: I decided to sacrifice four weeks of my life. I spent most of the evenings and weekends studying, and ventured out of the apartment only to do my grocery shopping. It wasn’t the most exciting way of spending June in Greece, but it had to be done. In the second part of the course, I got a little bit more adventurous and went for a walk a couple of times. I even found time to watch two films: Logan was brilliant; T2 Trainspotting disappointing (with the exception of one good scene).

Well, what about the 0.6% candidates who actually failed the course in 2018? All trainees receive constant guidance from their tutors, so you would need to ignore what they tell you in order to fail the course because of your performance in the classroom. In addition, some people think that arguing with the tutors or other trainees is a good idea. Teaching English is a serious profession and it’s important to have that in mind when taking the CELTA. Being punctual and respectful, taking the tutors’ advice into account, and behaving like a decent human being is as important as your performance in the classroom.

Now that I have been teaching for a few years, I know that the bar to pass the CELTA is quite low. You don’t have to do much reading before the course, but you can certainly make life easier for yourself, especially if you are eager to get a good grade. Your centre will probably provide you with a pre-course task, and it’s a good idea to take it seriously. I also recommend that you read the syllabus and assessment guidelines and familiarise yourself with the way the course works. You should also refresh your grammar knowledge to avoid any unpleasant surprises. Raymond Murphy’s English Grammar in Use, which is aimed at intermediate students, will be sufficient.

If you have some free time before the course, you could read the following books, which are very useful for CELTA trainees:

● Martin Parrott: Grammar for English Language Teachers
● Graham Workman: Concept Questions and Time Lines
● Rosemary Aitken: Teaching Tenses
● Jim Scrivener: Learning Teaching

Each course is externally assessed and it doesn’t really matter where you take it. You can find a lot of websites with detailed information about the CELTA, including my favourite resource ELT Concourse. That said, the most important thing you have to do is listen to your tutors because their feedback is the most valuable part of the course. It’s necessary to pay attention to the tips for improving your teaching that you are going to receive. If you are told to talk to your students and not to the board, you are expected to do that in your next lesson. It’s not exactly rocket science because even the input sessions are done in the same way you are supposed to teach.

I understand that teaching your students while a group of people is observing your every move isn’t the most comfortable experience. You don’t need to reinvent the wheel, though. Copying the tutors’ and other trainees’ techniques and using them in your lessons is perfectly acceptable. Your students don’t expect you to be a world-beater either because they know that you are being trained to be a teacher. I highly recommend that you learn their names as soon as possible and try to talk to them during breaks. Teaching people you’ve chatted with before is more pleasant than standing in front of complete strangers.

If you plan to get a CELTA, you need to know that it isn’t a walk in the park. However, if you are a hard-worker with good time-management skills, there is nothing to be afraid of. You are going to receive a lot of support during the course, so you just need to keep an open mind and absorb the knowledge. Chasing an A may leave you feeling disappointed, because the criteria for obtaining that grade are a bit fuzzy; some centres seem to be stricter than others, so luck may play a role as well. Your main objective should be improving as a teacher, and the process of obtaining your CELTA will certainly contribute to that.